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Tobacco dollars still in politics, but few go to Clinton, McCain or Obama

May 5, 2008 |  8:02 pm

California competes with Utah as the state with the lowest per capita tobacco use. Less than 14% of the adult population smokes, California health officials estimate.

Now, in honor of the primary tomorrow in North Carolina, the nation’s largest tobacco-producing state, The Ticket takes a look atHow times change--once tobacco and its money was intricately woven into American politics and the economy but not anymore political donations by the growers of those ground-up leaves to the 2008 presidential campaigns. “The golden leaf is a bedrock to North Carolina,” that state's Department of Agriculture proclaims on its website.

The truth is, The Times' indomitable campaign finance expert Dan Morain finds, where once tobacco interests and money carried a lot of influence, this time there's not much tobacco money flying around this cycle.

The candidates who took the most tobacco money have dropped out of the White House race. So much for big business picking winners. One-time Republican front-runner and cancer survivor Rudy Giuliani took $114,000 during his unsuccessful run. Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, whose home state is home to UST Inc., formerly known as U.S. Tobacco Inc., accepted $55,000.

Among candidates still standing or running...

... Sen. Hillary Clinton has taken the most -- $46,300 from executives and employees of tobacco companies.

Sen. John McCain, himself a cancer survivor, has taken $27,400.

Sen. Barack Obama, who famously has tried to quit smoking with off-and-on success, has taken $22,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

These remaining candidates have not been particularly kind to the tobacco industry, according to Stanton Glantz, an anti-tobacco advocate, researcher and medical school professor at University of California, San Francisco.

McCain actually advocated a tobacco tax hike in the 1990s, and carried legislation to implement the 1998 national tobacco settlement, in which the tobacco companies agreed to pay the states more than $200 billion.

Clinton pushed for a smoking ban in the White House when she was first lady, and President Clinton’s Food and Drug Administration sought to regulate tobacco. Obama has cast anti-tobacco votes, Glantz noted.

“Tobacco companies know they’re a liability,” Glantz said. “The money is there but it’s hard to see.”

Indeed, the tobacco industry is not without its resources. In 2007, tobacco companies donated more than $525,000 to various campaign organizations known as 527s, a Times review shows. So far in the 2007-08 election cycle, tobacco companies and their employees have given $2.1 million to federal candidates and parties.

That’s down some 80% from 1995-1996 when it gave $10.6 million in campaign donations to federal candidates.

Three of the 14 most costly California initiatives sought to hike tobacco taxes, according to data compiled by the Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles for its latest report, “Democracy by Initiative.” The tobacco industry spent $66 million to kill the latest measure in 2006.

-- Andrew Malcolm